a group of people walking on a beach

Photo by Chris Betcher

Last year, a 15-year-old tourist from China decided to etch a choice message on an ancient Egyptian stone sculpture: “Ding Jinhao was here.” Another Chinese traveler took a picture of the vandalism and posted it on his blog, writing “I’m so embarrassed that I want to hide myself. I said to the Egyptian tour guide, ‘I’m really sorry.” 

This wasn’t the only instance of a Chinese tourist causing a ruckus — a group of visitors to North Korea reportedly tossed candy at local children “like they’re feeding ducks.” Misbehaving Chinese tourists have gotten enough negative media attention recently that the country’s tourism administration released an etiquette guidebook on how to behave while abroad. 

The rise of China’s economics engine means that Americans now have company when it comes embarrassing their country while traveling abroad. It also means that tourists from China are now arguably the main drivers of the demand-side of the global tourism industry. 

According to data from the World Bank, China accounts for the highest number of international departures annually for non-business-related reasons:

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Data via World Bank. Germany not included due to insufficient data.

Since 2009, China has overtaken the United States and the United Kingdom as the top sender of travelers abroad. 

Chinese tourists also spend the most while abroad. A study by the UN World Tourism Organization claims that Chinese tourists topped US$100 billion in expenditures in 2012:

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Data via UNWTO Report

This level of spending by tourists is unprecedented. According to the UNWTO study:

“Boosted by rising disposable incomes, a relaxation of restrictions on foreign travel and an appreciating currency, Chinese tourism spending has increased almost eightfold in 12 years, up from US$13 billion in 2000.”

And this increased ability to spend and travel has strongly influenced what the world’s most popular tourist destinations are. Euro Monitor International compiled data on tourist arrivals in over 100 cities around the world. Leading the list are Hong Kong, Singapore, and Bangkok:

chart, bar chart, histogram

Data via Euro Monitor International

While NYC, London, and Paris appear in the top 20, 6 of the top 7 destinations are located in the Asia-Pacific region. According to Euro Monitor, Chinese travelers are a “boon” to Thailand’s tourism industry, while also heavily contributing to tourism in Singapore and Hong Kong.

Move over America. China has now surpassed the United States in tourism spending, and all the baggage that comes with that as well.

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